Stojko Not Impressing

July 22, 1991
This was supposed to be Step 1 in the Stojko Summer Project. Instead, it has been a step backward for the Celtics' backup center.

Stojko Vrankovic is one of four incumbents here at rookie/free agent camp at Babson College and there's a reason for that: He needs the work.

However, he reported to camp well out of shape - CEO Dave Gavitt called Vrankovic's condition "woeful" - and has done little on the basketball court to distinguish himself from any of the other wannabes, many of whom will be lucky to ever play in the NBA. 

Asked if he was disappointed with Vrankovic, coach Chris Ford said, "I don't know if I'm disappointed. But I'm not happy with the way he's playing. He's not facing Robert Parish and Kevin McHale here, but you still have to be competitive and give it your best shot. You don't play down to the competition. He has to develop a killer instinct and take charge every time when he's on the floor."

Vrankovic has been nothing close to assertive, part of that because of his obvious conditioning problem. In Saturday's opening session, he had trouble with Jerome Coles, who checks in at 6 feet 7 inches. Yesterday, he had little luck with Perry Carter, who is 6-8. Who knows what would happen if he went up against a real center?

Yesterday morning, Ford had seen enough and took Vrankovic aside and let him know in no uncertain terms he expected more.

"I told him I expect him to dominate and rebound and block shots," the coach said. "We told him in June that this was his opportunity. And that we'd take him to LA Summer League and send him to Pete Newell's big man camp."

Vrankovic could present the Extenuating Circumstances rebuttal, but it would fall on deaf ears. His country, Yugoslavia, is falling apart at the seams and he was there as the breakaway republics of Slovenia and Croatia were making their move. Vrankovic is Croatian.

He was more than two weeks late returning to Boston, unable to get a flight out of Zagreb. (There were no flights out of the country to get.) And his wife and two children are still in Yugoslavia.

"Yes, I worry about my wife, my mother, my sisters," he said, although he added there has been no trouble in Zadar, his home town, and that the only tanks and soldiers he's seen are the same ones we've seen - on television.

"I love my people, my country and we just want to be free," he said.

What about basketball? Is he at all concerned about his shape and his position on the team?

"I feel OK. I'm now, 60 to 70 percent," Vrankovic said. "But I will be OK for summer league. I hope I will play more minutes next season, but I will have to work hard."

He said he had talked to both Ford and Gavitt about getting extra minutes this year. Last year, he was a certifiable project and, except for one 15-minute stretch against the Pistons in January, was mainly relegated to garbage time. He was frustrated at times, but Gavitt said the Celtics planned to follow a conservative course with the 27-year-old.

"We were pretty clear-cut on that when we signed him," he said.

Vrankovic played in just 31 games, a total of only 166 minutes, and made one cameo appearance in the playoffs, going 4 minutes in Game 3 against the Pistons.

He has one more year left on his contract, reportedly in the $ 650,000 range, and the team wants to see if he's worth anything more than that.

"This camp is important for Stojko," Gavitt said. "We feel good about the progress he made last year. We hoped he'd be in better shape, but since he has been here back from Yugoslavia, he's been working at Hellenic and with Dave Cowens. But he still has to prove himself."

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